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Perception and Inference

Breed, Thomas J (2020) Perception and Inference. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This project explores the connections between normativity, perception, and conceptual content, and develops a view on which perception has inferentially-articulated conceptual content that is grounded in the way perceptual experiences alter the normative statuses of perceivers.

In chapter two I address a criticism developed by Tyler Burge, who argues that views that require perceivers to have sophisticated capacities, such as conceptual or inferential capacities, in order to have representationally contentful perceptual states conflict with our best understanding of vision science. I argue that even if, as Burge claims, non-rational creatures have representational perceptual states that do not depend in any way on such capacities, nonetheless the perceptual states of rational creatures must be integrated with their conceptually contentful mental states and must be capable of serving as reasons for belief, given the role these states must play in the explanation of the representational perspectives of rational creatures.

In chapter three I develop and defend a specific version of conceptualism on which the conceptual content of perception is grounded in its normative significance. Specifically, I claim, by analogy with inferentialist metasemantic accounts of meaning, that perception has conceptual content by virtue of the way that it warrants perceivers in applying concepts and entitles them to claims. I also argue, against Robert Brandom, that giving perception this kind of role is required in order to give an adequate semantics for natural languages. I then apply this view to provide an explanation of the object-directedness of perception.

In chapter four I pair this inferentialist account of perceptual content with a relationalist approach to the metaphysics and phenomenology of perception. Most relationalists argue that their view is incompatible with the claim that perception has content, but I argue that the way the inferentialist account grounds the content of perception in normative features of experience makes it more compatible with relationalist approaches than many other similar views. I then respond to a specific problem raised for the content view by Charles Travis, and provide an explanation of the relationship between the phenomenology and content of perception on the basis of my response to this problem.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Breed, Thomas Jtjb88@pitt.edutjb88
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcDowell,
Committee MemberBrandom,
Committee MemberGupta,
Committee MemberWu,
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 July 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 23 July 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 210
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Philosophy of perception, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, inferentialism, normativity, naive realism, representationalism
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 13:32
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2020 13:32


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